Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fewer Juvenile Arrests Approved; Migrants Bear Brunt of Charges

Judge reads the suspended sentence verdict to juvenile offenders. Credit: Yunnan Qujin People's Congress, March 2015

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) recently held a press conference announcing new figures that show “strict adherence” to the policy of reducing juvenile arrests and indictments, and a startlingly high percentage of migrants among juveniles charged. About 27 percent of juvenile arrests and seven percent of juvenile indictments were not approved in 2014, compared with 18 percent and five percent, respectively, in 2012 (see chart below).

Prosecution of Juveniles in China, 2012-2014

Arrests not approved Indictments not approved
2012 17.51% 5.18%
2013 25.23% 6.65%
2014 26.66% 7.34%
Source: Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Dui Hua

The SPP made no mention of sentencing outcomes for indicted juveniles, but a source with knowledge of the data told Dui Hua that non-custodial sentences were given to 40.24 percent of juveniles who went to trial in 2014. This compares to 41.75 percent (including those who were exempted from punishment) in 2012, as reported by the Supreme People’s Court Research Office, and 35.56 percent in 2010, according to the official compendium China Juvenile Justice (zhongguo shaonian sifa). In 2010, the majority, or 84.81 percent, of juveniles who received non-custodial punishments or exemptions were given suspended sentences. Fines were the next most common punishment at 5.96 percent, followed by exemption from punishment (5.43 percent) and public surveillance (3.80 percent).

Since a section on juvenile cases was included in the amended Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) that went into effect in 2013, more than 40 percent of juveniles going to trial each year have received non-custodial sentences. Sources indicate, however, that this percentage dipped in 2014 compared to 2013 and 2012. This may be partially explained by the fact that drafts of the proposed CPL amendments were made public as early as 2011. Judicial organs at various levels likely began increasing non-custodial measures for juveniles in 2012 and early gains may have exceeded those of later interventions.

A decline in the percentage of non-custodial sentences may also be due to the fact that, in 2014, 74.84 percent of indicted juveniles were migrants. Juveniles whose hukou, or household registration, is outside the place where they commit an offense are less likely to receive non-custodial sentences for myriad reasons. These include inability to offer compensation; monitoring organizations that refuse migrants; and difficulty finding guardians, which leads to lengthy detention periods bordering on excessive punishment.

In Zhejiang, a province outdone only by Guangdong in its number of migrant workers, juvenile offenders received non-custodial sentences in fewer than 25 percent of cases in both 2009 and 2014. In Liaoning Province, with a much smaller migrant population, nearly 55 percent of juvenile offenders received non-custodial sentences in 2009. The figure increased to 58.76 percent, almost 20 points above the national average, in 2014.

Another factor at play could be the concentration of violent offenses. In 2014, the most common offenses committed by juveniles across China were theft (29.3 percent), robbery (20.73 percent), intentional assault (15.57 percent), picking quarrels and provoking trouble (7.64 percent), and affray (7.35 percent). Drug offenses, rape, and forcible seizure also accounted for a relatively large number of crimes. Due to public safety concerns, people who commit violent crime are less likely to receive non-custodial sentences.

The SPP also announced that juvenile offenders are getting younger, with an uptick in offenses among 14- to 16-year-olds. The young age of juveniles in conflict with the law may have contributed to decisions not to approve arrests and indictments. It also underscores the growing importance of records sealing.

NGO Law Threatens Support for Reform

Dui Hua held an exchange on the topic with the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and judges from 12 Chinese provinces and municipalities in October 2014. As it stands, the Chinese government appears to be closing the door on these kinds of exchanges, which have the potential to assist homegrown initiatives to improve rights protections for Chinese citizens. The amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law that went into effect in 2013 were the first revisions to that law in 16 years and were greatly facilitated by domestic and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Among these NGOs, Dui Hua held juvenile justice exchanges with the SPC in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. Concepts proposed during the exchanges were incorporated into the amended law.

The impending passage of the foreign NGO management law now threatens to regulate exchanges like these into extinction, taking with them tangible benefits to the Chinese people. The draft law has also been criticized extensively for the large cost it could bring to domestic Chinese NGOs and China’s general populace. In its current form, the law offers little but a lose-lose situation for China and its achievements in human rights.